How Many Words Should a Thriller Have?
This is a very common question and one that I have looked at many times. 3 WISE MEN was originally around 68,000 words when I thought I had finished it. I say “thought” because this was the word count when I told my wife (and friends we were staying with) that “I had finished the novel.” What I should have told them was that I had finished the plot. When I advertised this fact, my writer friends informed me that the long period of editing would follow and that completing the draft was the “easy part.” They were correct, but it was still a real joy to have the draft done. Several months and many re-writes later, 3 WISE MEN was up to a word count of around 86,000. On close inspection, I discovered that there were too many adverbs and overuse of adjectives, etc. A culling of unnecessary words and phrases dropped the total work count to about 78,000 words. This period of review gave me time to clean up many sections of the book, split long chapters, etc. and generally improve the writing in sections that did not “flow” as well as I had thought. 3 WISE MEN seemed much tighter and better-paced as a novel at this stage and I was pleased to get it published. Then, helpful feedback from close friends gave me pause – especially from one who enjoyed more detail to help build up the tension of thrillers. With this advice in mind, I reviewed several parts of 3 WISE MEN and discovered that just over 80,000 words allowed better “breathing space” in the novel. This helped in describing characters and drama. I was still quite happy with my description of places, but broke up longer chapters where it seemed natural to do so. Finally, with the 2nd edition of 3 WISE MEN, I can now say that the novel is more complete! So, how long should a thriller be? It depends how long it takes to build characters, describe locations, create tension, and tell the story. But, at close to 80,000 words, the book seemed, for me, to be the right length. I just hope that you, the reader, agrees. If not, please let me know!